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Historical Oddities & Ends
By Kregg P.J. Jorenson
Posted January 27, 2007

   Did you know that the highly acclaimed Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School that was founded in Paris, France in 1895 takes its name from a 16th Century Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit and the blue ribbon on the medal that identified their loyal and often royal well-fed members?

  Well known for their lavish feasts the members became better known as ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ -the Blue Ribbons and their gatherings quite literally became ‘Blue Ribbon’ or of the best quality which is where we get our Blue Ribbon standard today. So the next time you take first place in any event and someone holding a camera says ‘cheese’ insist on the best!

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the English romantic artist and poet, was at such a dramatic loss when his beloved wife, Elizabeth died that he took his unpublished poems, carefully wrapped them and lovingly placed them in her coffin.

  Ah, love!

  Did you know that a number of years or so later Rossetti had the coffin dug up, retrieved the poems, dusted them off and had them published?

   Ah, writer’s block!   

  And speaking of love recovered…when the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelly drowned while sailing off the coast of Italy in 1822 and his body later recovered his heart was removed as a keepsake for his wife, Mary. Then it was considered a custom of the day. Of course, there might have been something more as Mary Shelly was the author of the work, The Modern Prometheus, better known as Frankenstein

  Cat got your tongue? For the British author Thomas Hardy it was his wish to be buried with his beloved wife after he passed on. Although, after he did expire it was decided that he should be entombed in Westminster Abby along with other esteemed English notables. To fulfill the spirit of his dying request his heart was removed so it could be taken to his wife’s gravesite and added to her remains.

  However, before it could happen, a cat,…well, a cat ate it.  

   However, did you An eyeful on the tower. In 1925 the French government was seriously considering dismantling the Eiffel Tower which is why the ‘Deputy Director of the Ministere des Postes et des Telegraphes’ Victor Lustig sent out bids to scrap iron companies for the tall project.

  A non-too ethical Lustig though took a bribe from one of the competing companies to get their bid accepted and once the (all ready favored) decision was made, and the check for the hefty first installment was accepted and cashed, work was ready to begin.

  The trouble was Victor Lustig wasn’t the ‘Deputy Director of the Ministere des Postes et des Telegraphes’ nor did he work for the French government, who by the way hadn’t decided to scrap the great tower. However, by the time the hoax was found out both Lustig, the enterprising con man, and the money were long gone.

  Encore, si’l vous plait?

  Mais oui!

  After the dust had settled, Lustig, who had carried out other scams in Havana, Cuba and New York, returned to France and tried once again to sell the famed Paris landmark. The second plan wasn’t as successful as the first and Lustig with no money and only an eye full of get rich quick schemes managed to escape just ahead of the police. It has been said that incompetent thieves take part in scams while competent thieves take part in politics. I disagree.

  I suspect that some politicians are incompetent thieves as well.  

  Small world, busy family? Did you know that in his book Native Tongues renowned linguist, Charles Berlitz wrote that there are at least 2,796 languages in the world today that are divided into twelve major family groups and fifty lesser ones?

  Did you also know that the French Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre’s grandfather was the man who developed the language learning method or that Sartre’s first cousin was the Nobel Prize winner, Doctor Albert Schweitzer? 

  Mission accomplished? When a much shaken battlefield commander General Sir William Beresford wrote up his account of the Battle of Albuera, Portugal that occurred on 16 May 1811 and presented it to his commander, Lord Wellington, the Duke was so appalled by the staggering number of friendly casualties and loss (half of the 7,000 man forces were either killed, wounded, captured or unfit for duty afterwards) that he was reported to have told Beresford: ‘This will not do. Write me a victory.’

  The account was changed and Beresford was cited with a ‘victory’ even though the engagement ended inconclusively. Good thing leaders today don’t manipulate battlefield conflict for their own political ends otherwise you’d think we never learned anything from history. 

  Are you aware that the melody for ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ came from a popular British drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven, that was first published in England in 1778?

  The melody was later matched up with the 1814 poem, ‘Defense of Fort McHenry’ by Francis Scott Key (later re-titled ‘The Star Spangled Banner’). It wasn’t until 1931 when it officially became the national anthem of the United States.

  A drinking song, huh? This might explain why it is played at sports venues where drinking is high on the list of pre-game, game time, and post game activities. While patriotism could be another plausible answer it isn’t all that convincing at times when many of those singing along in the stands beside me stumble over the lyrics or think that it ends with the phrase, ‘Play ball!’  

  And finally, did you know that the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is falling down…falling down…’ has its origin in the 10th century when marauding Vikings actually did pull down the London Bridge? However, I don’t believe my ancestors were singing the ditty at the time. Drunken humming perhaps…

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